Top 10 To Watch In '12

Each spring, there are always a few West Virginia players that stand out from the rest. This year is no exception. Here are my top 10 players to watch heading into the 2012 season based on spring practice and the Gold-Blue Spring Game.

1. Jeff Braun

Coaches and players have said this spring that Braun was playing with a new attitude. He was fiercer than he had ever been before and that has translated into a bit more success. Braun says the experience he's gained and the fact he's playing with a cohesive line has helped him grow.

"The thing with him is confidence. He's in a position right now that's his natural position,'' said offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh. "In the outside world, you think you can move from one position to another and be a great player, but that's not the case. Some people are more natural on the left side and some people are more natural on the right side. His best position and most natural position is right guard and center. He's comfortable and confident where he is now.''

2. Josh Francis

It was no secret that Josh Francis, an outside linebacker for the Mountaineers, had all the talent to be able to make an impact in 2011. But, he couldn't grasp the old 3-3-5 defense. That's gone, and Francis has a new outlook in the new scheme. Teammates are calling Francis a potential impact player for the 2012 defense. As the BUCK linebacker, he will have the opportunity to make aggressive plays, which takes advantage of his talent.

"Last year, I found myself taking on a lot of stress and bringing it home with me. I stayed up late and tried to put pieces together, but I couldn't put anything together," he said. "I've learned from that. I'm able to move on and not look back."

3. Jordan Thompson

The freshman inside receiver enrolled at WVU early to try to get a head start on gaining some weight and adding some muscle to his 5-foot-8, 165-pound frame. He has gained nearly 15 pounds since coming to campus in January and has been compared by his teammates to a young Tavon Austin. He stands behind Austin at the moment at inside receiver.

"I've always been the youngest and smallest kid my entire life – in all sports. When you get down, you can't keep being hard on yourself. You have to push and drive and things will get better. Success will follow," Thompson said. "I didn't come here to redshirt."

4. Shawne Alston

It might be a cop-out that Alston makes this list, but he stood out to me as the best running back on the roster during spring drills. Sure, he doesn't have the "quick twitch" that players like Andrew Buie or Dustin Garrison have, but he has what they don't – the ability to run over you. Alston didn't get to practice much in the spring last year, but he feels he's made significant progress this spring to make a larger impact in 2012.

"If I was able to take part in spring last year, maybe I would have had a better year last year. You've just got to use the offseason to get better. If you don't take advantage of it, then you're hurting yourself."

5. Jared Barber

As a freshman, linebacker Jared Barber made more of an impact than many expected. That seems to have continued into the spring, as he is now considered to be one of the most veteran players at his position. He is playing the weak-side linebacker position for the Mountaineers, which is a little unfamiliar for him, but he seems to have found his way.

"It's a lot different," said Barber of the new defensive scheme. "In the beginning, my head was spinning. I didn't really know what to expect. Everything was new. Now I know all the new coaches. I'm in the system. I feel a lot more comfortable, for sure."

6. Corey Smith

Last year, there were times when WVU punter Corey Smith would get booed off the field. It wasn't because he wasn't trying; he was merely inconsistent, and punter is a position that you can notice inconsistencies. In the spring, Smith was consistently booting punts from outside his own end zone past the 50-yard line. He also had a solid Spring Game outside of a weak field goal attempt.

"I learned a lot about my resiliency last year, I guess," Smith said. "I had a lot of ups and downs, but I was able to take positives from it. There were times in the season I was down, but I had to push through it and it paid off for me."

7. Tyler Anderson

Like Francis, Anderson was lost at times last year and wasn't allowed to make his mark defensively under the 3-3-5 scheme. That has changed this spring, as the 6-foot-2, 244-pound redshirt junior linebacker/defensive end has teamed up with Francis at the BUCK linebacker position and then later on at defensive end to make a mark. There is the chance that Anderson might head toward more of a defensive end's role when veteran linebacker Jewone Snow returns, but either way it seems Anderson will have more of an impact.

"This year, I feel like I'm more ready to contribute," he said. "At defensive end, you just get to the ball, and that's what I love to do. I'm not thinking as much this year."

8. Andrew Buie

Sophomore running back Andrew Buie had an up-and-down freshman season. He came into it as one of the players that could break out, as there were hints that he had some eye opening fall camp scrimmage performances. That never happened, however, as he struggled with injuries until the Orange Bowl. But, when needed, he stepped up vs. Clemson. Now, he had to do so again with projected starter Dustin Garrison out. Buie provides the quickness to the power of Alston.

"That game was just a confidence builder for me. Last year, I was just learning the offense and had to play right away. I tended to play a little bit slower, because I didn't want to mess up," Buie said. "This year, it's the second year, we know everything that's going on and it allows me to play a whole lot faster."

9. Dante Campbell

West Virginia has a slew of talented skill positions, but one thing you could knock is the size of those players. For that reason, inside receiver Dante Campbell, a 6-foot-4, 215-pound redshirt freshman, could make an impact for the Mountaineers this season. Sure, he has to get past players like J.D. Woods, Ryan Nehlen and a slew of inside receivers to get on the field, but he has skills that those two don't.

"I moved to the inside this spring, so I'm doing a lot of different things. I'm bigger, though, so it allows me to take some bigger shots better than some other players," he said. "I've gotten bigger and stronger over the offseason. I'm better prepared."

10. Karl Joseph

Another early enrollee, safety Karl Joseph, has been another standout player this spring. The Orlando, Fla., native is second on the depth chart behind Orange Bowl star Darwin Cook, but he has passed up the myriad of players at his position this spring.

"I just like competing. Football is my passion. I want to play, so that drives me to get better," Joseph said. "I like to watch tape by myself sometimes, so I can correct some of my problems before I talk to the coaches."

Honorable mentions: Josh Jenkins, K.J. Myers, Brodrick Jenkins, Doug Rigg, Travis Bell

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